Movie piracy in SA – a director’s view

A Cape Flats man stands accused of illegally distributing local film Four Corners using the BitTorrent protocol via the file sharing site The Pirate Bay.

The Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (Safact) has said that this is the first case involving allegations of online piracy in South Africa. As such, it is expected to be a so-called “landmark” case.

Ian Gabriel, director of Four Corners, provided a statement on the matter, saying that he is “quite philosophical about the piracy that’s happened.”

In an official statement accompanying his personal comments, distributor Indigenous Films said that the aggressive piracy of Four Corners has turned it into a cult classic in the areas where unlicensed copies were sold.

“This constitutes a massive loss to our South African box office,” Indigenous Films’ Helen Kuun was quoted as saying, “but we’re doing all we can to get the film out there and seen on the big screen by as many South Africans as possible.”

Kuun said that the vast majority of the piracy has happened on street corners and on municipal trains, through CD sales.

“We have no idea of the impact of the Internet downloads and the extent to which these downloads may have contributed to the manufacture of tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of copies of the film that were then flooded into the market, according to tabloid reports originating in the communities concerned,” Kuun said.

“From hearsay evidence at some cinemas where the film is showing, we have definitely lost a portion of the viewers in those areas to piracy,” she added.

Gabriel said that he believes people don’t see piracy as piracy anymore. “They see it as sharing,” he said.

“We will definitely not get as many people to the cinemas as we would have if the film were not pirated,” Gabriel said. “At the same time, there are people who have seen the film who would never have got to the cinema.”

Gabriel said that, while he is pleased the film is reaching those people, in the long run, unchecked piracy will “literally” mean the end of film-making.

“That’s not a great thought to contemplate. Movies and movie-making is one of the great cultural gifts humanity has given to itself in the past hundred years,” Gabriel said.

The full statement provided by Gabriel is included below.

The matter of the piracy of Four Corners is still sub judice, however I believe it prudent to make some specific statements regarding the effect of that event as reported and discussed on your pages. As you and many of your correspondents so rightly appreciate, the conundrums that leave freedom of information grappling with societies’ ability to protect creative expression have implications much more far reaching than the incidental piracy of this one film suggests, and bear some comment and some minor factual corrections that I wish to lay out for the record.

The pirated film in question, Four Corners was completed at the end of October 2013. We believe that the film was pirated at some time during cinema test runs or during freighting and couriering to foreign destinations for festival submissions in early November. The producers have never suggested that the film was pirated by a crew member, nor is it possible that the film was pirated in September as has been suggested, in varied commentary on these pages. As the leak of the film was a theft there is no confirmed information as yet regarding the source of the leak.

The suggestion has also been made that the producers postponed release of the film without explanation. In fact, as a result of the film receiving the Best Foreign Film nomination at the International Press Academy Awards in Los Angeles, and its subsequent very strong press reviews, the producers and distributor of Four Corners decided to shift the release of Four Corners from end February to end March, in order to secure a wider release pattern for the film.

Incidentally the 4 months from completion to release of the film constitutes a comparatively rapid turn around by industry standards for a film that was in development and production for 7 years before completion. The reason for the postponement was issued in a press release at beginning February.

Critical comment that has varied from Leon van Nierops review ( The Citizen ) hailing the film ‘for revealing a South African reality never seen on film before’ and Sandiso Ngubane’s review in the Sunday Independent calling Four Corners …’ quite simply one of the best South African films in recent memory… a thriller that can hold it’s own against the world’s best.” added impetus to the producers decision to seek the widest available release pattern for this landmark film that is, if not the first Coloured film in South Africa, certainly the biggest, with over 60 speaking parts.

On a personal level I am quite philosophical about the piracy that’s happened. I think the way people think now – digitally – they don’t see piracy as piracy any more, they see it as sharing. We will definitely not get as many people to the cinemas as we would have if the film were not pirated. At the same time, there are people who have seen the film who would never have got to the cinema.

I’m pleased the film is reaching those people because there’s a message of pride and self recognition and of choice for ordinary people that the film is delivering and its important that message be heard. In the long run though, piracy unchecked will literally mean the end of film making. That’s not a great thought to contemplate. Movies and movie making is one of the great cultural gifts humanity has given to itself in the past hundred years. We need to protect that gift and make it grow – its a cultural benefit for us all that is as valuable;e as the democratisation of information that the internet now affords us.

Films can only be made as long as the high costs of production, and remuneration of crew cast musicians etc can be taken care of by means of sales, either in cinemas or on digital platforms. There is value in the current discussion regarding internet rights and creative rights. I suggest in order to continue to enhance our quality of life, creative rights of origination need to be secured on some consensual level, probably not through aggressive policing, but rather through a common sense approach to the protection of creative endeavour for the benefit of all.

The film has now had the chance to perform at the Box office since March 28th. Below is the full text of a statement in response to the effect the piracy has had on the film’s release.

Four Corners’ Impact and the Piracy effect

Indigenous Films, the distributors of the award winning South African movie Four Corners, which released this week, have announced that Four Corners has been aggressively pirated for months prior to its release, turning the film into an instant cult classic in some areas of the country.

“This constitutes a massive loss to our South African box office,” says Indigenous Helen Kuun, “but we’re doing all we can to get the film out there and seen on the big screen by as many South Africans as possible.”

“From hearsay evidence at some cinemas where the film is showing, we have definitely lost a portion of the viewers in those areas to piracy. The vast majority of the piracy has happened on street corners and on municipal trains, through cd sales. We have no idea of the impact of the internet downloads and the extent to which these downloads may have contributed to the manufacture of tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of copies of the film that were then flooded into the market, according to tabloid reports originating in the communities concerned.”

“The film has had fantastic reviews both locally and internationally, with critics calling the film an ’ absolute must see’. We’re very pleased with the positive impact the film is having on big screen audiences wherever its showing. The only way that the writers, actors and musicians can get rewarded for their work on Four Corners and other SA films is by receiving support for the film on the Big Screen, so that’s where we’re encouraging all our audience to watch the film. We received so much support from the Cape Flats community in the making of the film, and many of the audience who saw pirated versions have said they’ll support the film on the Big Screen at repeat viewings over the coming weeks.” says director Ian Gabriel. “Now’s the time to make good on that promise.”

“To give us the chance to make more movies like Four Corners we need viewers to support the film in the cinemas. If we can count on an upward spike from viewers in areas where we know piracy has occurred, that will do the films distribution the world of good and demonstrate that the South African film industry and South African viewers are loyal to locally made films and local actors.”

Meanwhile the debate around Four Corners continues, with film critics, community leaders and piracy commentators all weighing in and the films Facebook page rapidly approaching 22 000 and its twitter following at 2 000.

See Four Corners, decide for yourself and support local film making on the Big Screen.

Development in first Internet pirate case for South Africa

Piracy promotes culture of fraud and corruption: MultiChoice

Uploading .torrent files in SA: legal or illegal?

Internet piracy over BitTorrent a crime in SA: lawyer

Internet piracy criminal, civil penalties in South Africa

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Recommended

Share this article
Movie piracy in SA – a director’s view